6’7″ Prep Lefty Justin Hooper Flashes Potential

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his change-up, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. Often, those will be the same grades. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. — Kiley

Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS (CA), UCLA commit (2015 MLB Draft prospect)

Hooper was a known prospect last summer when the 6’7 underclassman sat 88-92 mph at the Area Code Games, then created buzz this spring when his velo jumped into the mid-90’s as a junior.  Last summer, his delivery forced him to throw well across his body and this held back his potential while he now is much more online, though there’s still some effort and inconsistency in the delivery.

The NorCal product hasn’t been on the summer showcase circuit much, so last week’s two appearances at Area Codes (multiple innings) and the Perfect Game All American Classic (one inning) were the first time most scouts have paid close attention to him.  Hooper didn’t throw a changeup last year and had no feel for a well below average 82-87 mph changeup at Area Codes, then threw one very good changeup at 80 mph to end his PGAAC inning, so I’m splitting the difference on that grade.

Fastball: 55/65, Curveball, 45/55, Changeup: 40/50+, Command: 35/45+ 
Kiley

Fastball: 55/65

At his best, the player’s four-seam fastball possesses above-average cutting life, sitting 94 mph and topping out at 96 mph over the course of a short, one inning burst. In an extending outing, he is presently unable to hold his plus-plus fastball velocity, instead showing more of what amounts to an above-average fastball. When that is the case, he is comfortable switching to his two-seam fastball, which shows sinking life at 88-90 mph.

It shouldn’t be an issue in the long-term, accounting for physical maturation of his presently lanky, extra-large frame. However, struggles with repeating his delivery and mechanical issues (as noted below) subsequently lead to a murky present and future command profile, thus making it difficult to project the offering having the complete effectiveness of its true plus-plus potential, hence the half-grade knock on the future potential.

Curveball: 45/55

In my first look, a heavy dose of the 74-78 mph curveballs the player spun off would have earned just a present 45-grade mark. But it’s worth mentioning the offering looked better than that under the bright lights this past Sunday at PETCO Park. Given his immense size and long levers, there isn’t a need to fight his three-quarters arm slot like many pitchers with similarly lower slots would have to in order to get the desired vertical break of a curveball.

The offering shows two-plane break and shape, but needs additional tightening and sharpness as it travels towards the hitter. His highly projectable frame leads me to believe there is additional strength on its way, which will help speed the arm and create a stronger bite in its action. However, consistency is once again an issue, as there’s a clear wrap in the arm action when throwing the breaking ball, creating not only additional stress on the arm, but also making it more difficult for the offering to reach its 60-grade potential, hence the half-grade knock once again.

Changeup: 40/50+

There is feel for the changeup, but it is largely inconsistent and lagging behind his other offerings in terms of development and confidence. He threw it only a handful of times over five innings, and none of the five ever flashed averaged or better potential. However, the first (and only) changeup he did throw in my second viewing was as good as one could expect. His ability to manipulate his other offerings allow for a full grade projection in the changeup, but issues within his delivery once again are causing him to be inconsistent with his stuff once it reaches the plate.

Command: 20/45+

The pitcher will be more control than command, but that doesn’t mean he will be a strike-throwing machine. Presently, his fastball command is all over the place, and I don’t think that will ever be completely cleaned up. Furthermore, there are issues within his delivery that need tweaking. He’s made several mechanical changes in the past year, but it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. His back leg and lower half are no longer finishing at the end of his delivery, but that can be improved as he was doing it the year before.

Then there is the direction to home plate; he’s striding towards the left-handed batter’s box, in an attempt to create deception, but this only forces him to throw across his body while pitching to the batter’s box rather than home plate. There is a wrap in his arm action, putting additional stress on his elbow and causing his arm to be late at foot strike. These are legitimate issues causing his delivery to fail to reach the “clean” label, but more importantly affecting the player’s present command and consistent ability to tap into the potential of his offerings.

Summary

Hooper’s arsenal and command presently suggest a mid-rotation arm, the type of profile that usually gets selected in the back end of the first round of the draft. However, “it only takes one team,” and a prep arm with his size and projection could, with a strong spring, sneak into the top 5 as Tyler Kolek did last June. Even if Hooper fails to show much improvement between this summer’s showcase circuit and next year’s draft, some organization could already be dreaming of what their player development system could mold this ball of clay into.



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Quint

Hooper drives the boat, chief!

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